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Climate Change Space Project Could Get Extension Under New Proposal – NBC4 Washington

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., announced a tentative deal with NASA Monday to save a locally developed space project that was set to be destroyed in January. 

Supporters say the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), a forest-mapping laser developed by the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, is a critical tool in the fight against global warming. GEDI is the first of its kind to use lasers to make 3D maps of Earth’s forests in order to measure how much carbon those forests store and would release if burned.

The $94 million project launched to the International Space Station in 2018 and was set to be decommissioned in January, but its backers have been lobbying for more time to complete its mission before it’s replaced by a Department of Defense project.

In an interview with News4 Monday, Van Hollen said NASA has proposed storing GEDI on the ISS for up to 18 months while the Defense project known as STP-H9 proceeds. GEDI would later be reinstalled in order to finish mapping the globe. 

“This is the best of both worlds,” Van Hollen said, adding that ending the mission too soon “would be losing very valuable data moving forward.” 

Along with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Van Hollen has been lobbying NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to extend the project.

“I think NASA recognizes the importance of this GEDI mission and the importance of the scientific data that will come with it,” Van Hollen said. “From a taxpayer point of view, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest in the mission and see it three-quarters of the way through because that compromises the benefits of the program.” 

In a statement to News4, a NASA spokesperson confirmed it’s exploring storing GEDI on the ISS but noted the option “would involve multiple complex operations and additional cost” and is subject to an extensive review in December.

Reached Monday, the University of Maryland researcher behind the project called the potential deal a “win-win situation for everyone.”

“I really appreciate all the effort NASA has gone through to try to keep GEDI active,” said Ralph Dubayah, who has been pushing for his project to be extended.  

Dubayah and his team spent years developing the laser technology, which orbits the globe every 90 minutes and uses sensors to create maps that show the height and shape of trees. Pairing that information with data on the ground, scientists can create carbon databases that Dubayah said is used by governments and nonprofits alike. 

GEDI “is giving us a better understanding of how we can plan and predict for the changes that are coming because of climate,” Dubayah previously told News4. “If we lose GEDI, we’re not going to be able to come up with the most accurate estimate of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.”

Last month, a NASA spokesperson told News4 GEDI is among seven Earth science instruments providing “significant information” on the effects of climate change and, “given high demand for use of the station, NASA has a commitment to host a new payload that will follow GEDI. However, we continue to look for alternatives for extending the GEDI mission.”

News4 producer Caroline Tucker contributed to this report.

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